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The Ashes 2021-22 – Joe Root

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Joe Root says that he could almost “hear the smile down the phone” when Ben Stokes rang him to say he was ready to return to action for this winter’s Ashes tour, and knows that his team-mate will do everything in his power to be fully prepared for the first Test in Brisbane on December 8.

Stokes, who suffered a badly broken finger at the IPL in April, missed the entirety of England’s summer Test campaigns against New Zealand and India, and withdrew from all cricket to focus on his recovery, and manage his mental health, shortly after standing in as captain in an ODI series against Pakistan in July, following a Covid outbreak in England’s original squad.

However, he underwent a secondary operation last month, to remove scar tissue that had been hindering the flexibility in his left index finger, and soon afterwards he stated on social media that he was able to grip his bat properly for the first time in months. A successful return to the nets has since followed, and with that weight on his mind lifted, Root is confident that the Stokes of old won’t be far behind.

“Obviously, it’s massive news,” Root said on the eve of the Test specialists’ departure. “Speak to anyone within the game, whether they’d prefer to have Ben in their team or not, and everyone would say they would. On a personal level, I’m just absolutely thrilled that he’s in a place where he can get back playing and enjoy the sport once again.

“Although we all know what Ben is capable of, we’re still managing expectations,” Root added. “He’s been out of the game a long time, he’s had a serious injury and he’s got a lot of work to do to get himself back to the Ben Stokes we all know. But if there’s one thing we can bet on with Ben it’s that he’ll do everything he can to ready himself and then put in performances that help England win games of cricket.”

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Stokes attempted to downplay his own importance to England’s prospects. “A team in cricket is 11 players, plus the extended squad and all the backroom staff, so I know that one player doesn’t make a team,” he said. “I know that I’m a senior member of that team over the last few years [but] every member of that team is just as important as each other. We all play different roles and everyone is capable of winning that match by themselves.”

Already, however, the simple fact of Stokes’ inclusion has transformed the dynamics of the England squad, with a second world-class batter now set to feature alongside Root in the top five, while his vital status as a frontline seamer means that England will be better placed to accommodate a specialist spinner, a problematic selection once again following Moeen Ali’s retirement from Test cricket last month.

Stokes has a proven track record in both disciplines in Australia, having made a brilliant maiden Test century at Perth and taken six first-innings wickets at Sydney during England’s 5-0 whitewash in 2013-14. He missed the subsequent campaign in the wake of the nightclub incident at Bristol in September 2017, but his stunning century in England’s one-wicket win at Headingley in 2019 is more recent proof of the impact he can have on any given Ashes contest.

“He’s a massive asset in many respects,” Root said. “First and foremost, his performances on the field, especially what he has done against Australia in the recent past. But also the way that he plays his cricket. Look at where we are going: we are going to have periods of play where it’s going to be very challenging. We’re going have to have people stick their hands up and grab the game – he is someone who will always do that.

“He’ll lead from the front in that respect, he is a brilliant leader in the dressing room and people follow him. They look at how he works, how he practices, how he goes about his cricket. And they all want to go along with him.

“That’s a great trait to have, along with being capable of performing how he does. It’s a huge boost for balancing the side as well, as he has done for such a long time now. Everything about the way he goes about things is going to be great for us.”

Root himself will be travelling with huge expectations too, following a stellar run of Test form in 2021, in which he has amassed 1455 runs at 66.13, including six centuries. And given that Australia’s hard and true pitches are among the best in the world for batting, he knows the onus will be on all of England’s top-order to knuckle down and deliver the consistent first-innings scores that set England up for their most recent away Ashes win in 2010-11.

“The most important thing is weight of runs,” Root said. “To be successful there, generally sides have to make big scores and you have to manage that well. That comes down to the responsibility of all the batters. You have to separate the mentality of what might be a good score in English conditions and understand the hard work and different challenges [posed by] Australian wickets and that environment.”

Root himself has already stated that he is “desperate” to improve his Test record in Australia, a venue where he has yet to make a hundred, and where has suffered defeat in eight of his nine matches across two tours in 2013-14 and 2017-18. But he believes he is more in command of the mental side of his game this time around, and is gunning to “stamp his mark” as his predecessor Alastair Cook did with 766 runs in that 2010-11 win.

“I probably wanted it too much, I was too desperate, and it had probably a negative impact on the way I played,” he said of his previous tours. “I put too much pressure on myself, and I think one of the things that has really helped me this year is stripping a little of that back, really going and enjoying my cricket, and my batting, and I have a bit more clarity and understanding of my own game.

“One thing I have got coming into this series is a lot more evidence and information on those conditions than the last two tours. That will stand me in good stead as well. And making sure we are fully prepared for what we are coming up against. Australia’s attack has been very similar for a long period of time now, there’s a lot of information and knowledge that we can prepare ourselves for ahead of the series if we put that work and practice in, and making sure that we are ready to face and counter whatever’s thrown at us.”

Despite Eoin Morgan’s claim that England’s crushing victory over Australia at the T20 World Cup would have no bearing “whatsoever” on the Ashes, Root added that the confidence taken by England’s multi-format players – in particular their two star performers in that contest, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes – was bound to feed into their preparations for the Test series.

“You have to try and lean on that confidence and performance the T20 side put in the other night,” he said. “There will be guys from both teams involved in that series and I suppose you want to try and capture as much confidence going into that series as much as you can.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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BBL11 2021-22 – Bowling attack gives Melbourne Renegades hope of revival

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The batting remains questionable and they will be looking for the youngsters to develop

Captain Nic Maddinson
Coach David Saker

Squad
Cameron Boyce, Zak Evans, Aaron Finch, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Mackenzie Harvey, Josh Lalor, Shaun Marsh, Jono Merlo (replacement player), James Pattinson, Mitch Perry, Jack Prestwidge, Kane Richardson, James Seymour (replacement player), Will Sutherland, Nic Maddinson, Reece Topley (Eng), Unmukt Chand (Ind), Mohammad Nabi (Afg), Zahir Khan (Afg)

In Nic Maddinson, Jono Merlo, James Seymour, Reece Topley, Unmukt Chand, Zahir Khan
Out Beau Webster, Peter Hazloglou, Jon Holland, Benny, Howell, Noor Ahmed, Imran Tahir, Imad Wasim

Last season

It was another disastrous season for the Renegades finishing last for the second straight year. They won their first match and then lost seven in a row. Their batting was abysmal, bowled out for less than 90 on three occasions and 111 in another match against Adelaide. The bowling was nowhere near as effective as season’s past and they struggled to find a consistent unit as they mixed and matched their overseas players. There was one bright spot as they produced a brilliant chasing win over Melbourne Stars late in the season. Mackenzie Harvey starred smashing 47 not out from 21 balls to give a glimpse into the future.
International impact
Renegades have been severely impacted by both Australia selection and injury. Nic Maddinson‘s selection in the Australia A side to face England Lions means the new Renegades captain won’t get a chance to lead his new club until their fourth game at the earliest. Marcus Harris is set to miss most of the season due to Test duty. Aaron Finch is in doubt for the early games due to his ongoing knee issue while Shaun Marsh is set to miss at least half the tournament due to a calf tear. England does have tour of West Indies in the new year and Afghanistan is scheduled to visit Bangladesh but it is unknown if the likes of Reece Topley, Mohammad Nabi or Zahir Khan will need to leave the BBL early.
Player to watch
Reece Topley is an important recruit for Renegades and has a chance to make a serious statement to England selectors ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia next year. Fellow Englishman Harry Gurney was a key part of Renegades’ run to the title three years ago and Topley has a similar opportunity to cause havoc on the inconsistent home surface of Marvel Stadium.

Key stat (Gaurav Sundararaman)
Renegades were the worst bowling unit in the previous BBL edition. Their bowling economy rate of 8.61 was the highest among all teams and their death bowling economy was 11.24. If Renegades want to play finals, this is an area they need to focus on. Their attack certainly looks stronger this season

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo



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Chris Gayle farewell on the cards with Jamaica set to host West Indies-Ireland series

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The series will comprise three ODIs and a one-off T20I, all at Sabina Park

West Indies will play three ODIs and a T20I against Ireland in Jamaica from January 8 to 16, the CWI has announced, with the possibility that the standalone T20I will be used as a farewell match for Chris Gayle.

While Gayle will not be part of the ODI squad, with the series counting towards 2023 World Cup qualification through the Super League, the one-off fixture at Sabina Park could be used as his farewell game. ESPNcricinfo understands that a decision has yet to be made on Gayle’s inclusion but that the issue will be up for discussion at the next meeting of CWI’s board of directors later this month.

“It’s whether collectively we all feel that it’s appropriate for him to have one last game at home to say farewell in a one-off game,” Johnny Grave, CWI’s chief executive, told the Mason and Guest radio show in Barbados last month. “That Ireland series would represent that opportunity.

“It would certainly be appropriate, as far as I can see it, to treat our players and give them the opportunity to bow out – especially players like Chris who have had unbelievable careers and won trophies for the West Indies.”

Ireland will travel to the Caribbean on December 31, immediately after their series against USA which starts on December 22 and comprises two T20Is and three ODIs. They have already named their squads for both tours, with Kevin O’Brien left out and David Ripley taking temporary charge as interim head coach.
Ireland last toured the Caribbean in 2020, drawing the T20I series 1-1 and losing the ODI series 3-0. Sabina Park was also the venue for one of the finest moments in Irish cricketing history, their victory over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup on St Patrick’s Day.

“We are pleased to be returning to the Caribbean where we have so many great memories,” Richard Holdsworth, Cricket Ireland’s performance director, said. “The World Cup Super League is a crucial set of fixtures for Ireland as we attempt to qualify for the next Cricket World Cup, and – if the series in 2020 is anything to go by – we look forward to a highly competitive series in January.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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Bangladesh tour of NZ BCB approves Shakib Al Hasan’s request to skip New Zealand tour

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Nazmul Hassan says BCB has no problem with players wanting a break, but says it should happen via official channels

BCB president Nazmul Hassan said on Monday that the board has accepted Shakib Al Hasan‘s leave request to skip the New Zealand tour for which Bangladesh are scheduled to leave later this week. Some days ago, Hassan claimed that Shakib only informed them “unofficially” of his reluctance to be on the tour, and hours later, Shakib reportedly had requested the board by handing over a letter officially.

“We have accepted his request,” Hassan said. “We have been saying this for a long time that we have no objection if a player wants to take a break or rest, but it has to be informed officially. The thing is, we want to be informed about such a decision in advance as it is difficult for us if it is informed suddenly. From January, if anyone wants a break, he has to inform us in advance so that we can prepare alternatives.”

This is the third time in 2021 that Shakib has skipped a tour for Bangladesh. He opted out of the white-ball tour of New Zealand in March due to paternity leave before missing the two Tests against Sri Lanka in April to play in the IPL.

Hassan felt Shakib should have asked for the leave officially, rather than informing them verbally.

“This [the confusion] is not embarrassing, to be honest. We simply didn’t know about it, officially,” Hassan said. “The thing is, these things have always happened unofficially. Now, to avoid confusion, we are emphasising that these matters should be official.”

Bangladesh’s tour of New Zealand includes two Tests, part of the World Test Championship, beginning on New Year’s Day. The team will leave on December 9 to complete quarantine and then play practice matches.



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